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Last Update: Friday, November 18, 2011
News from the Philippines
The purpose of this page is to provide the
reader current information (as of Jan 2005) on travel to the
Republic of the Philippines (RP). It's intended
audience is the USAF air rescue community who have had a past association with
Virtually all of the air rescue aircrews who served in the Vietnam War also visited the Philippines during that war. Most went to jungle survival school and many went on R&R (rest and recouperation). The USAF also used Clark as a base for a large rescue squadron, the 31st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS). Prior to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 and the resultant evacuation of Clark AB, the 31st ARRS was the home of HC-130 fixed wing aircraft and HH-3 helicopters.
Over the years, thousands of air rescue aircrews and their families were based at Clark. A normal tour of duty was three years. Many of these families extended their assignments or volunteered to return after they were ordered to depart to a new assignment. Most of these families fondly remember the tropical environment and extremely high standard of living they had in the Philippines. It is probable that military families at Clark Air Base had the highest standards of living at the lowest cost in the USAF. That is why so many military families stayed in the RP for as long as they could. It is also why the Philippines still has a huge number of expatriate American citizens who live their year round.
After my return from my January 2002 vacation in the Philippines, I had a couple hundred people ask me what it was like. Most of them were prior military or their families who were assigned to Clark Air Base before it was shut down in 1991. Invariably they asked the same questions. Many expressed an interest in future vacation travel to the RP. A few expressed an interest of living there in the future. This web page will provide answers to many of these questions. Text underlined in blue will take you to a hyperlinked subject that is the same as the underlined text. You will have to use your browsers back button to return to this page. If you have something of interest that you would like posted on this page, e-mail it to me at email@example.com
Note: The 1953-54 pictures of the RP were provided by PJ Udo C. J. Fischer. They certainly show a contrast between then and now. Thanks for the photos Udo.
Why Go and Is It Safe
I had visited the Philippines TDY several times during my military career and was assigned PCS to Clark AB in early 1991. In June 1991, all non-essential personnel were evacuated from Clark because of the threat of a volcanic eruption on Mt. Pinatubo. I was one of the few individuals considered mission essential personnel who remained at Clark. On June 15th, 1991 Pinatubo erupted with one of the largest volcanic events in history. I had a camera with me at the time and took a photo of the eruption. That natural disaster resulted in the complete abandonment of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base by the United States. I departed Clark PCS in September 1991. Detailed histories of Clark AB, it's final evacuation, and current status can be found at www.clarkab.org or www.clarkab.com
In January 2002, I returned to the Philippines for the first time since the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. A couple of my friends, who had moved to the RP following their retirement from the U.S. Air Force, suggested I come on by for a visit. Their email to me said that I should try their locale during one of my winter vacations from my long time home in the Alaskan arctic. I surfed to the Manila U.S. Embassy website to check on RP travel advisories. The website had a section titled "Living and working in the Philippines". That section provides just about everything any U.S. citizen needs to know about a visit, or a longer relocation, to the Philippines.
I discovered that all I needed to visit was a valid passport and that the embassy did not recommend travel to the most southern island of Mindanao. My friends lived in Angeles City which is near San Fernando on the northern island of Luzon. I looked at a map of the Philippines and learned that Luzon was far away from Mindanao. Next I used the internet to check on airfare and the quality and costs for local hotels. All my information led me to the conclusion that I could have an inexpensive, enjoyable, and safe trip. I decided to take my next vacation in the Philippines. Little did I know then how much this decision would change my life.
My first visit was a 30 day vacation. I had such a good time it was soon followed by a second 21-day visit in May, and another 30 days September. In all, I spent about 81 days in the Philippines in 2002. After a couple of more trips in 2003, I decided that I would try living in this apparent tropical paradise. The slower pace of life and the tropical climate improved both my physical and psychological health. In mid-2003, I resigned from my job in the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services; and, in November 2003, I relocated to the Philippines for an intended one year stay. Now I've finished 13 months here and have decided that for at least the next few years, I will remain in the Philippines for most of the time. The obvious questions at this point are why did I make this decision and is it safe to live in the Philippines. This web page will answer many of those questions.
The Philippines is 5° north of the equator and is located in the western Pacific Ocean about 800 miles east of Vietnam. Map of Southeast Asia. The country consists of more than 7000 islands, only 3000 of which have formal names. It has a tropical environment with essentially two seasons: The dry season (November to June) and the rainy season (July to October). The best time to visit is from November to February, when the weather is relatively cool and dry. Average Monthly Temperatures in Angeles
The population is approximately 75 million. The country was a colony of Spain from 1521 until 1898. One significant influence Spain left on the country is religious. A very high percentage of citizens actively participate in a religious affiliation. The majority are Catholic but many other religions are practiced in the country. One of them is Islam with its base of support in the southern islands surrounding Mindanao Island. A militant Islamic terrorist group named "Abu Sayyaf," which has links to Al-Qaida, is fighting a war with the government of the Philippines. There will details on this later. The country was a possession of the United States from 1898 until 1945. English is common with over 90% of its citizens having some knowledge of English and many being relatively conversant in English. Detailed demographic and historical information about the Philippines with a searchable database can be found at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/phtoc.html
The Philippines has over 200 regional languages; however the national language is Tagalog. Most citizens think favorably upon visiting Americans. Public education is provided and mandatory for all children in grades one though six. Attendance in high school is not mandatory, but a majority of children complete high school. Post secondary education is available if the student has the financial means to pay for it. The national currency is the Peso Link to current Peso to Dollar rate which in December 2004 was trading at 55 Peso’s to the dollar.
The U.S. Dept. of State Consular Information sheet on the Philippines states that the government is a "democracy in development." Because the government is still in transition, it has problems that that could impact visitors that I will discuss later. Within its cities can be found ultra modern homes and hotels. But the average Filipino lives in housing that would be considered by Americans as substandard in the USA. However, this housing is adequate for survival and is on par with domestic housing in other developing countries. Electricity, running water and sewers are found in most homes in the major cities. But it would be common in smaller towns for many homes to have little or no utilities.
Health care is relatively good nationwide and extremely inexpensive compared to the USA. If needed, a tourist can expect to be able to obtain high quality care for illnesses and adequate immediate treatment for trauma injuries. Long term trauma or specialist care would be better provided in the USA. If you are former military and eligible for VA medical care, there is an extremely well staffed and equipped VA clinic in Manila. One item that I’ve noticed in the local newspapers is that job advertisements for nurses to move to the USA is widespread. One of this countries biggest exports is talent. Nurses are only one group that emigrate to other developed nations to obtain economic successes that are not presently achievable in the RP. Click here for “Fast Facts” about the Philippines.
I traveled to the Philippines on Korean Airlines. They took me nonstop Anchorage to Seoul, Korea in about 8 hours. There was a one to two hour layover and then a 2-3 hour flight directly into Manila. I flew business class for added comfort in flight and to minimize airport hassles checking in. I have also used Asiana Airlines and landed at Clark instead of Manila. This saves you the car trip from Manila. Clearing customs and immigration is much faster at Clark because only one flight a day lands compared to dozens of flights landing each day in Manila. The only downside to landing at Clark is that Asiana is presently the only airline that lands there. Depending on what time of the day your flight from the USA lands in Korea, you could have a long wait for the once a day Asiana departure to Clark.
You will need a passport but you do not need a visa for visits in the Philippines of 21 days or less. I had no problems with immigrations coming into or departing the Philippines. Travel from the Manila airport to Angeles can be done by taxi or bus. To avoid problems, I always reserved a car by e-mail and it is waiting for me at the airport when I arrive. I use the service provided by Margarita Station vans because they are reliable and use late model vehicles with good drivers. I paid between $32 - $40 depending on the size vehicle requested. It normally takes less than two hours to drive from the airport to Angeles. The roads between Manila and Angeles are in good shape.
Map showing route between Manila and Angeles
I stayed in Angeles City, renowned as the past home of Clark Air Base. Clark was the largest US Air Force Base in Asia until it closed. The former base is now called the Clark Special Economic Zone. Angeles City is located right outside Clarks gates. According to the U.S. Embassy in Manila, over 120,000 American citizens live in the Philippines. This is one of the largest concentrations of American residing outside of the USA. Over 2000 Americans live in Angeles City. Angeles is a city that has something for almost every tourist.
Invariably my friends have the same questions about my travels to the Philippines:
1. Why did you visit the Philippines? 3. Why did you move there?
2. Is it safe to visit the Philippines? 4. Are you crazy?
This webpage will answer questions one through three. The answer to number four is a matter of opinion. These answers are my views and probably do not reflect either the views of the governments of the United States or the Philippines.
Why go to the Philippines is the easier of the questions to answer. It is relatively inexpensive, easy to get to, is relatively safe, and a tourist can experience a high standard of living.
I’ll now explain what I mean by inexpensive and high standard of living. My hotel costs here are approximately $43.00 a day. I stay at the Oasis Hotel and it is an absolutely first rate hotel. Those of you who visited the old Clark Air Base may remember it as the hotel where most of the officers stayed when visiting. I would reserve a two-room suite which also has a very large bathroom. There is excellent air conditioning and the bathroom has never run out of hot water, even after my 15-minute showers.
The suite is equipped with cable TV with many of the normal stations you would get in the USA. It has a refrigerator, coffee bar, living room furniture, a desk and bedroom furniture. There is a king sized bed and the only thing I bring from home that allows me to sleep comfortably is my down pillow. The entire suite is impeccably clean and housekeeping keeps it that way throughout your stay. The hotel has a large pool, good restaurant, bar and business center. The hotel also has its own backup power generator that is capable of powering the entire hotel and still allows the guests to keep the air conditioner on. The electric power went out a few times during each of my visits, so this backup power was appreciated by me.
Many would characterize the Oasis as a resort hotel. The staff is friendly, competent and aggressively ensures that all requests are promptly completed. A free breakfast and newspaper are provided with your room. This is probably the best hotel in Angeles City and caters to, what in this town would be considered, a conservative family and / or a business oriented customer.
While the hotel has a good restaurant, I dine there only occasionally. The restaurant is well staffed, esthetically pleasant, extremely clean and has a menu that includes a good selection of entrées. Each day they have a large buffet, which appeared to me to be the most popular dining selection. The prices are a little high compared to other restaurants but they do have the best salad bar in Angeles. My primary reason for not eating there is that I spent a lot of time in the hotel and wanted to get out and enjoy the variety offered in town. There are other hotels in Angeles that are less expensive and some are quite nice. I visited many of them during my trips and they are for the most part directly adjacent to a main road or in the bar district. Usually these hotels have a lot of background noise from traffic or the nearby bars. Having a quiet working and sleeping location is a must for me, so the Oasis Hotel is my best choice. The Oasis is not within reasonable walking distance of the tourist bar district and the most popular restaurants. [Map] So if your reason for traveling to Angeles is primarily to "party" the Oasis may not be the best hotel for you. The Orchid Inn has a good reputation for the tourist who plans to spend most of their time in the bar district. I stayed there on one trip, and if you don't mind its noisier location [map] it would be a good place to stay.
I normally go out to the “ville” for dinner each evening. Travel between the Oasis Hotel on Perimeter Road to the majority of the restaurants or bars requires a short ride (five minutes). Most tourists travel around either by trike or jeepney. Jeepney's travel almost continuously up and down the Perimeter Road and many other locations in town. They are the most common form of motorized travel. They are a private sector version of mass transit. You pay the driver pesos (0.08 cents US) for a ride and you let him know where you want off. Trikes are a sort of personal taxi and will take you door to door. There is no fixed rate and you negotiate a rate prior to getting a ride. I could travel from the Oasis to anywhere's on Perimeter Road or Fields Avenue for about 50 pesos ($1 US). Most expats pay less and urged me to argue for better rates. But for me, it wasn't worth saving a quarter to argue over a fare. You can rent cars in town but I do not recommend it. If you are driving, your potential for coming into contact with the police is high. Because you are a foreigner, your traffic fines will be higher and you may be expected to pay them on the spot. If you are involved in an accident, you will be tied up in litigating fault until you pay damages. This would ruin any vacation. If you want a private car, pay the rental agency for a driver also. The cost for a driver is very low and it minimizes your chances of problems.
There are at least 100 restaurants that target foreigners as primary customers. But two of these restaurants probably pull in the majority of the tourist dining business in Angeles. They are Margarita Station and Kokomo’s and they easily serve several hundred meals a day to both Filipinos and foreigners.
My favorite is Margarita Station. The facilities are among the best in town. The food is consistently excellent. The menu is huge and includes Asian and American food at very low prices low. The servings of food are very large, even by American super sized standards. There was a large number of waitresses. The waitresses were all in uniform, spoke very good English, understood their menu and were young (early 20's) and pretty. There is also an internet café, bar, pool tables, barber shop, laundry, and airport shuttle service. However the big draw here is the restaurant which easily occupies most of the space in this very large facility. When visiting, I probably ate two thirds of my meals here and I was never disappointed with the food, service or facilities. The restaurant is owned by a retired USAF Combat Control Team (CCT) officer (J.C. Cummings) and most of his shift managers are retired CCT senior NCO's. They run a tight ship that ensures their customers are well taken care of. I never visited Margarita Station when one of these managers was not prominently on duty watching over the large locally hired staff of waitresses and bartenders. A lot of pool players frequent Margarita Station. The bar has about anything you could ask for. They have the largest and best Margaritas in town.
Kokomo’s has a similar physical layout except that it also has a small swimming pool and several large screen TV's. Few seem to watch TV, but if some big international event were occurring on TV this might be a good place to watch it. It also has pool tables. Kokomo's offers free wireless internet connection and has the only "wireless hot spot" that I am aware of in town. They also have a few desktop computers set up for visitors to use for free. In addition to these free internet services, they also have an internet cafe. Kokomo's has a smaller menu than Margarita Station and prices are comparable. Some expats in town tell me that Kokomo’s has the best pizza and lasagna in town.
The best spot I have found for steaks is called the "Hole in the Wall." It specializes in 18 oz. steaks grilled the way American's prefer. It is a biker bar with expat and visiting motorcycle enthusiasts using it as their meeting point. However, everyone is welcomed and I have never had any problems there. The Hole in the Wall is a bar, restaurant, and pool place. I have eaten there often and have been impressed with the quality of the steaks. It is located in the "heart" of the tourist area next to the Winchester Club.
Another great place to dine is the Cottage Kitchen Cafe. This restaurant is located on lower Perimeter Road down by the Oasis Hotel. It is a much smaller restaurant with maybe a dozen tables. It caters to customers who might wish a relaxing, quiet dining experience in a more intimate setting. The background music is jazz and the house specialty is Cajun food. The meals here are absolutely great. The service is also exceptional. The prices are higher than Margarita or Kokomo’s and on par with the Oasis Hotel. When I don’t mind a crowd and want to select from a huge menu I go to Margarita. When I want a quiet relaxing meal I go the Country Kitchen. I have dined at the Country Kitchen often and I always had a great meal. This restaurant is owned by an American expat who is normally in the restaurant ensuring quality control. He made it a point to say hello and is a friendly man who made sure I felt at home.
You can also find the normal fast food restaurants we have in the states (McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dunkin Donuts, etc). You can also get a large selection of high quality seafood and Chinese food at many restaurants around town. The most noticeable difference in all of these restaurants is the price. Everything costs about one-third of USA pricing.
There is a wide gamut of recreational activities in the Angeles area. World class golfing is found on Clark. Water parks, skydiving, rental planes, duty free shopping and gambling casinos are also on Clark. If you are an FAA certified pilot, you can rent a Cessna 152 or 172 from Omni Aviation on Clark. It is located in the old Clark AB Aero Club building and some of the aircraft are the same ones the aero club flew. I have rented planes there and can vouch that they are well maintained. The skydiving DZ is located within walking distance of Omni Aviation. The Tropical Asia Parachute Center (TAPC) has been operating on Clark since early 1996. They call Margarita Station their base of operations. For more info, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and put TAPC in the subject box. Another retired PJ who lives here is Kevin (KJ) Jones. (KJ) and I have jumped with TACP and always have a safe and good time. The Angeles Hash House Harriers runners club base themselves out of the Anchorage Inn hotel located across the street from the Orchid Inn. You do not have to be a runner to participate as they have both Hash runs and Hash walks. I did one run with them that was interesting. It went through jungle, ravines, small hills, lahar fields and lasted about one and a half hours. The Hashers are from multiple countries and are a friendly crowd. Following the run they gather in a local bar for food, drinks and Hash rituals. This all takes a few hours.
Angeles is the home of VFW Post 2485 and American Legion Post 123. I have eaten a few times at the VFW. It has a good restaurant and draws a large crowd. You do not have to be a member of the VFW to eat there. I have not tried the restaurant at the American Legion. Both of these posts help to maintain the Clark Cemetery. Over 2000 American soldiers, airmen, sailors and civilians are interred in this cemetery.
The American predictions that Clark would be reclaimed by the jungle when we abandoned the base were wrong. The old billeting skyscraper has been converted to a Holiday Inn. This hotel is the most expensive in Angeles and it’s call to fame must be its proximity to the golf course. In my humble view, these are grossly over priced hotel rooms. Many small shopping malls have opened on Clark and the selection of clothing and food is significantly larger than when the U.S air base exchange and commissaries were there. You can buy almost any canned or packaged food product that you can in the USA. The prices are about what I pay in Anchorage, Alaska. Several large manufacturers and businesses have opened factories on Clark. United Parcel Service and FEDEX both use it as a hub airport. On top of all this, approximately a third of the base is being used as a Philippine Air Force Base. Suffice it to say, Clark is still there and doing reasonably well.
The Philippine government has been making attempts to
promote eco tourism. However, the murder of Americans
Brian Smith on Mt.
Pinatubo on January 31, 2002 and the beheading of
Guillermo Sobero, in Mindanao
in 2001, place a dark cloud over the eco tourism concept. Many Americans,
including this author, would love to climb Pinatubo or visit the pristine
beaches located on the southern islands. Both of these activities are
specifically not recommended by the U.S embassy in their January 2005 Philippine
travel advisory. That advisory should (in my opinion) be read
as a worst case situation. It states that "The terrorist threat to Americans
in the Philippines remains high, and the Embassy continues to receive reports of
ongoing activities by known terrorist groups." This is probably true but are
you really any safer in New York City. Regarding locations to avoid, the
1. "U.S. citizens are urged to defer travel to Mindanao, and the islands of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Jolo, in the southwest of the Philippines."
2. "An American tourist was shot and killed by an unidentified gunman on the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo in Pampanga Province, an area known for NPA activity.
My opinion of all this is that visitors to the Philippines should take the same reasonable precautions they would if visiting any large city in any foreign country. These precautions include maintaining a low profile, being especially alert when out on the town and at night, avoid alleys and dark areas at night, treat others like you would like to be treated, and don't carry large amounts of cash. If you get falling down drunk, have money sticking out of your pockets, and get into arguments with locals acting as an "ugly American", you can expect to get mugged and treated badly. Heck, if you did this in the USA, you would likely get your ass kicked. If you follow the recommended reasonable precautions, you will have a good time and get along fine with the locals. In over two years here, I have yet to become a victim of any type of crime.
Financial transactions in Angeles are more complex than many other tourist destinations. Travelers checks are not easily cashed. Banks require that you to provide the checks, the check receipt, and your passport. The rate of exchange will be slightly less than if you exchanged dollars for pesos. You might also be charged a transaction fee to cash them. Most hotels and virtually none of the bars will accept travelers checks. All of the major hotels will accept most credit cards. A few bars and some restaurants will also accept credit cards. Credit card usage in the Philippines is not as common as in the USA. The majority of citizens here DO NOT have credit cards. It is also common to be charged a 5-7% surcharge when using a credit card. Businesses located in a mall setting will normally accept credit cards. A few ATMs are available in town and on Clark. ATM's work sporadically and frequently malfunction and keep your card. This necessitates an in person visit to the appropriate local bank to reclaim your card. When working, ATMs will dispense pesos and they charge a small transaction fee. Unless you have a local bank account , you will not be able to cash any personal checks. Even if you have a local bank account, personal checks are held for 30 days to guarantee that the bank gets their money before you get it from them. It is unlikely that any hotel, bar or business will accept personal checks.
Most Filipinos and expatriates deal strictly with cash. Most tourists and expatriates convert their dollars to pesos at one of the several money changers located near the "Checkpoint" at Fields Avenue. Probably the most popular is called "Norma's." Conversion rates between dollars and pesos change daily. You will get a better conversion rate at these money changers than you will at a hotel or the bank. One hundred dollar bills are the normal currency converted. Do not be surprised If you see the exchanger closely inspecting your currency. The reason why all of the businesses are hyper security conscious regarding financial transactions is that Pilipino counterfeiters are busily flooding the market with extremely high quality fake travelers checks, peso notes, and U.S dollars. Counterfeit money is common and businesses in the Philippines have to take exceptional measures to protect themselves from being liable for the fakes that come into their possession. The good news about local money is that there is no need to carry a lot of cash with you. Prices on everything is very low. I rarely carried more than 4000 pesos (approx. $80.00) and I usually brought most of that back to the hotel with me.
Most military men remember the town just outside the base gates as being the wildest party town in the world. Angeles had hundreds of bars; alcohol abuse and the recreational sex scene was literally uncontrolled. Basically it was anything goes. It was common to enter a bar and observe live sex shows on stage and at individual tables. Many Americans assigned to Clark found this to be extremely offensive morally; but an equally large number found the bar scene to “suit their style” (at least while visiting Clark). Fights in the bars were common, extreme drunkenness the norm, and the town developed a reputation that would have put Caligula to shame. The military view was that as long as your off duty activities did not cause you to be incapable of doing your military job, they left you alone. The local government tolerated this all because of the huge amounts of cash that were pumped into the economy. The average bar hopping GI spent more in a week, than the average Filipino made in a year. Working as a bar girl one could make more money than a local doctor and many of these women married GI’s and escaped the poverty of their own country.
That was then, and what I’ll do now is describe the bar scene "as I see it" now in Angeles.
If you want to party, Angeles still is a great place to have a good time. However, it has toned down considerably from the days when the American air base was active. The city still provides more than is needed to have a great day or night out on the town. The primary “nightlife” area is a 500-yard stretch of Fields Avenue to the MacArthur Highway that is know as "the tourist area." In this area are a couple of hundred bars of all types and variations.
The type of construction of the bars has changed substantially since the closure of Clark AB. Most are now semi-modern, concrete structures, with indoor seating. That is compared to the plywood and bamboo patio bars of the past. Virtually all the bars now have air conditioning. Several of the bars have gone into competition with each other to have more comfortable seating, food service, high end lighting and sound systems. Most of the bars have a dozen or more girls dancing on stage. A few bars have 30-40 gals dancing at a time with more than 200 on staff. Most bars have uniforms for the dancers and waitresses. The dancers normally have identical two piece outfits that go from what I’d describe as bathing suits to more conservative outfits that are blouses and shirts. Each bar has a different uniform for their staff. The Roadhouse Bar is one of the most popular bars and would fit the conservative wear category. Confetti’s Bar has the more common bathing suit outfits. Topless dancing is prohibited by law and it is uncommon to find any of the bar owners willing to risk their licenses. Occasionally some dancers might take their top off for a short period. In 2002, during my visits, none of the bars I went into, and I think I went into all of the major bars, had nude dancers. I was told that the Hasher’s once had a wild party at a bar that included some nude dancers and that the end result was a major fine and shut down of the bar in question. The city government has passed laws that prohibit nude dancing and the bars are mostly in compliance. In this respect, the Angeles bar scene is more conservative than most major cities in the USA. In Anchorage, Alaska totally nude dancers (Alaska Bush Company) pushing lap dances can be found in many of the bars.
As you travel down the main road (nicknamed Perimeter Rd) away from "Checkpoint" and towards the Oasis, there are a lot less bars. Most of the road has no bars except for a few clusters in certain areas. The first cluster is just after Checkpoint between the Stampede and Emotions. The next batch is about midway down Perimeter Rd and centered on a bar named "Garfield's." Garfield's is the hangout of a some retired U.S. Army SF types and the back of the bar is a "team room" with appropriate decor. There is a small side street next to Garfield's and there are four bars on it. There are also a half dozen other bars close by Garfield's. The next cluster comes up near the Thi Hi and Honeyko’s. Except for some other bars located in a few of the larger hotels, that about covers the bars tourists visit on Perimeter Rd. There are a lot of other bars down by the Clarkton Hotel but they are exclusively local bars and few if any westerners go into them. The majority of bars and restaurants just outside the old Friendship Gate has become the primary tourist area for Korean visitors and few westerner's hang around these businesses. The chief attraction for me in this area is the Halla Spa. This spa is a godsend to me and I visit it at least a couple of times each week. I am so impressed with it that I have a dedicated area on this site that explains the high quality service it offers. Check the Halla out if you are in town and have aches or pains that you want some relief from. Maps of the Clark Perimeter Road and Fields Avenue tourist area can be found at Wayne's AC Maps. These maps show all of the major hotels, tourist spots, and bars.
Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines but the law is not enforced and several hundred bar girls work in more than 100 bars located in this area. The difference between the USA and the RP is that in the RP the local government and police completely overlook these laws. In Angeles, the police heavily patrol the bar district. Their presence is strictly to reassure the tourists that they are safe from crime or terrorists. The bar girls are supposed have health cards to show that they are disease free. They all have a card, but that probably guarantees little. The VD rate is reported to be about the same as in the USA; but, the AIDS rate is allegedly significantly lower than the USA and most of the rest of the world. I suspect that statistic is in error due to failure of public health agencies to report HIV cases detected during health screens of the bar girls. The bar girls in Angeles Fields Avenue area work on what’s called the bar fine system. If you want to take a girl out, you pay the bar fine to the bar. The bar in turn pays the bar girl 50% of the bar fine. Supposedly, the bar fine is just for company, but everyone knows how this game is played. Bar fines are $20.00 a night. There are also freelancers who do not work in the bars. There is also a significant number of single unattached women who are simply looking for a boyfriend. The bottom line here is that any male can find a woman who wants a boyfriend. Some are doing it for money, some are doing it for sex, some are looking for foreign husbands. The motivations of these women are as varied as you find in most other countries, including the USA.
One of my favorite hangouts is called the DMZ. It is one of the smaller bars in town and is owned by a former U.S. Marine. The interior décor has lots of U.S military pictures, posters, plaques and news articles. I enjoyed looking at the pictures and reading much of the historical material on the walls. My primary activity here is playing pool with my girlfriend Wendie. On many of nights, an expat friend of mine (KJ Jones) would stop by and hang around for an hour or two. His longtime girlfriend (Lilibeth) is quite the lively person and she got along well with my girlfriend and I. During an average evening we would play several games and I would drink 3 or 4 San Mig beers and Kevin would drink a few beers or have a couple rum and cokes. The prices at the DMZ are low. But that is not a real factor in why I hang around there. They have two good pool tables and excellent service. The waitresses provide excellent service without pushing you to buy more drinks. The dancers do not hassle you to buy them drinks or to take them home. The ventilation is good so cigarette smoke is not a problem. Most importantly, they do not play their music so loud that I need earplugs. Also their music suits me. They play only a little rap or disco. A lot of their music is 60’s and 70’s. Lilibeth made it one of her missions in life to see to it that I visited most of the other major bars in town. One of them that I liked was the Roadhouse
The obvious question at his point is who is paying for all this bar scene. If you look at the Philippines as a whole, at least 95% of the bar girls are going out with Filipino men. In Manila and Angeles, there is also a foreign tourist element involved. In any one night, there are a few hundred foreigners in town strictly to get drunk, laid, or both. Food, alcohol, and women are all inexpensive. These men come to the Philippines from Australia (50%), Europe (25%), USA (20%) and Asia (5%). Most simply don’t want to play the dating game and simply want to relax in the environment found in the RP. The percentage estimates are mine and do not come from any official source. Some Americans, particularly women find this sex for money issue as extremely offensive and exploitive of the involved women. This sexual attitude is not shared worldwide. The political correctness attitude on many issues in America is unique to our country and not shared in the majority of the world. Laws on smoking, drinking, disciplining children, racial profiling, and sex are significantly different in the USA than elsewhere. The vast majority of Americans do not travel extensively overseas. It is this majority that tend to be the most judgmental of other countries that don’t share our views. If you are going to be offended by any of this one should not travel to the Philippines, or much of Europe, Asia or Africa. Angeles does have an international reputation as a sex tourists destination. But there is much more to do than drink and have sex in the Philippines. In fact, the vast majority of expatriates in the Philippines have little to do with the visiting tourists or bar scene.
Foreign citizens who reside in the Philippines year round are officially called expatriates, or expats. Several thousand American expats live in Angeles. Many reside here because they can live in relative luxury at low costs. They have very nice housing normally located in secured compounds with guards. In the USA, we would call them gated communities. Virtually all have a full time maid, cook, yardman, and a nanny for their kids. A few differences I noted between America and Angeles were:
1. Many of the expat families are large compared to American families in the USA. Families of four to six children are not uncommon.
2. Wives do not normally work but stay home to supervise the staff and watch the kids.
3. Expat children attend low cost private schools which put American schools to shame in regards to what the kids learn. Many of these private schools are run by religious groups. Many expat children are getting excellent educations compared to the public schools in America.
In several respects, some expats lifestyles is a very 1950-ish kind of life with church, school and socializing all being major family affairs. One discernable difference is that some of the husbands are in their 50’s and married to women in their 20’s and early 30’s. Most expats do not hang around the local bar scene. They appear to prefer to hang around with other expats and Filipinos.
High quality hand crafted products are inexpensively made in the Philippines and easily imported into the USA. Many travelers to the RP are businessmen coordinating purchases. There are opportunities here for the entrepreneurially minded individual.
I also visited the old Subic Bay Naval Base during this
visit. It has now become the Subic
Bay Special Economic Zone and the changes outside its gates are even more
dramatic than Angeles. The city of Olongapo
has completely outlawed the type of adult entertainment that Manila
and Angeles are known for. There are no bars in this city of over 300,000
people. Bars are outlawed unless they are also a restaurant or some other sort
of dual use facility. USA quality shopping malls, golfing, yachting, movie theaters and hotels
have all been created in what used to be the naval base. The Cubi Point Air Base
is now a FEDEX hub. The old JEST
jungle survival school is a museum and has the best scenic overlook of Subic
Bay. On the outskirts of Olongapo is the town of Subic. Some expats reside here
and there are a few bars that cater to them. These bars are fairly low scale
operations and certainly not worth a trip to see. I came across them because the Subic Hash runners ended
one of their runs at one of these bars.
This report has up until now focused primarily on the positive points of visiting the Philippines. But, as Paul Harvey says; “Now for the rest of the story.”
The Philippines has serious problems with its government
that include a 2001
coup de tat
and widespread claims of corruption. The elected president of the country at that time was named Estrada. His job prior to election was as a movie star. He frequently portrayed the honest man taking on the government. Like Ronald Reagan, being a well known movie star undoubtedly helped him in becoming president. Unlike President Regan, President Estrada’s election was followed by an impeachment attempt in the senate. The claim was that President Estrada was responsible for nepotism, favoritism, and that these cronies were pilfering from government funds with the collusion of the president. Based on available facts, the claims were probably at least partially true. An attempt was made to impeach Estrada. Many citizens believe some senators accepted bribes in turn for their stopping the impeachment. Following the unsuccessful impeachment attempt, President Estrada left on a state visit to another country in Asia. While he was out of the country, several hundred thousand citizens in Manila filled the streets and demanded that Estrada be forced from office. On 19 January 2001, many generals, senior police officials, senators, statesmen, a cardinal and many well connected citizens held a meeting with the vice president in a Manila hotel and voiced their support for her to take over as president. Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo acceded to the request and with the support of her solicitors took over as President of the Philippines. In the RP, this is known as EDSA 2; which roughly translated means people power for the second time. The first time was when a similar group of solicitors requested Cory Aquino to take over from the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The citizens of the RP had no choice with the dictator Marcos, people power was the only way to get rid of a dictator. But with Estrada, the citizens had choices. They could impeach him (tried and failed) or they could vote him out at the end of his term. Instead several hundred thousand citizens in Manila decided to overturn an election made by millions of citizens throughout the country. Essentially, this was a coup and the legally elected President was arrested upon his return to the RP and is now awaiting trial on charges of corruption. The present government has redefined the term coup, so that it does not apply in this case. However, a check in the dictionary will result in this definition: The sudden overthrow of a government by a usually small group of persons in or previously in positions of authority. Following President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's accession to to the Presidency, the Philippine Supreme Court declared her to be the legitimate President of the Philippines. Then again on July 23, 2003 another coup attempt occurred in Manila by a small group of junior military officers who stated that they had no viable legal means to express their grievances about corruption; because, all of their general officers were corrupt. Their most significant complaint was that their officers were selling weapons and munitions to known terrorists groups. Supposedly these munitions were being delivered by Philippine military vehicles and the payoffs and sales were common knowledge to most officers in the armed services. That coup was quickly terminated when neither the people of Manila nor any significant group of the military overtly supported them. Their claims were dismissed by President Arroyo and they were arrested and are now on trial for mutiny. Many expats here figured the truth was somewhere in the middle and the most senior officers were not involved in this level of corruption. Then the General Garcia case made worldwide headlines and the complaints of the junior officers in the 2003 coup attempt gained credibility in the national press and with the citizens. Now there is talk of some sort of Congressional or Presidential Pardon for these well intentioned but high strung junior officers. Hardly a month has gone by that I have not read in the local newspaper about another coup threat that is imminent.
In May 2004, the Philippines had their election for President. This was supposed to be the first election that used computers in the polling stations to tally the votes. The Philippine Commission of Elections (COMELEC) had earlier awarded a 1 billion peso contract to Mega Pacific Consortium for the computers. Then only a few weeks before the election, the Philippine Supreme Court voided the contract. This forced COMELEC to organize a manual count of the ballots. The Supreme Court also ordered cessation of any future payments and the recovery of all monies already paid for the computers that had already delivered and which were in the possession of COMELEC. The end result was a highly contested election with all sides (except the Aroyyo administration) claiming massive vote count fraud by the COMELEC. The theory was that COMELEC worked directly for the Aroyyo administration and they threw the election to her. In any case, after a hotly disputed six week manual count, COMELEC announced that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had been re-elected. This was the second time in two years that the Supreme Court invalidated major contracts that had been awarded by other branches of the Philippine government. The first case was the multi-million dollar Manila International Airport (NAIA-3) terminal construction. After the Philippine government awarded a contract to a German company to build a new terminal, the company spent millions constructing the terminal. Just prior to the finishing touches being completed on this modern airport terminal, the Supreme Court invalidated the contract and ordered the government not to repay the company for the costs incurred. The current situation is that after a year and a half of fruitless litigation, the government has seized the new terminal and plans to open it in June of 2005. Manila is in an urgent need for the new terminal as the old terminal is unsafe for continued use and the new one is just sitting there waiting to be used. There is no doubt that the public good will be served by getting the new terminal into operation. The only problem here is that once again the Philippine government is not paying for something that they contracted for.
In any case, at the moment this is "water under the bridge". Coups and national financial dealing are explained here to demonstrate that this is an unstable government. The Philippines may be a budding democracy; but, it has not yet become a fully developed working democracy. It is also one reason why foreign investors are leery of investing in the RP. From what I read in the newspapers and see on TV, President Arroyo appears to be a good, honest individual who is trying to improve the lot of her citizens. However, I have to recognize that my sources of information are topical and I have no way of knowing if the current government is going to last until the end of the electoral period. President Estrada's corruption trial is ongoing, the 2003 military coup trial is ongoing, General Garcia's corruption case is ongoing. Who knows how these trials are going to end and how they will affect the current government. I will say one thing about Philippine politics. They are certainly very interesting to at least this expat.
Another long-term problem with the government is alleged
corruption. All of the Filipinos I met believed their government was filled with
newspapers commonly decry this corruption. The corruption claims
are not in any particular part of the government. They are endemic throughout the
government to include the military, the police, the legislative and executive
branches. I have not personally witnessed any sort of corruption or shakedown
for money by any government official. During several occasions when I officially
worked with the Philippine Air Force, I never witnessed any form of corruption.
However the expats who live here and several foreign businessmen I’ve spoken
with have told me stories of overt shakedowns for money from all sorts of
government officials. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is a multinational
agency with representatives from many of the worlds governments that include the
US, UK, France, Germany and Japan. The FATF produces a list annually of
countries that are uncooperative in the fight against money laundering. The
Philippines is presently on this list. The Philippines was also ranked poorly in
a survey of expatriates conducted by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy
(PERC). According to the survey, Filipino police are involved in kidnappings and
The police are frequently charged with attempts to coerce money from expat
businessmen. In extreme cases they have been accused of planting evidence. One
incident that has received worldwide press attention is the John B. Martin case
(Australian citizen). The Angeles police showed up at his house and claimed he
was selling drugs. Mr. Martin claimed that the police threaten to arrest him if
he did not pay them. He refused to pay and when the police searched his house
they claimed to have found illegal drugs. Mr. Martin said the drugs were planted
by the police. He was held in jail for six months and when finally brought to
trial, he was acquitted. The good news was that court system worked and he was
acquitted. The bad news is that he was framed by the police, stayed for months
in a very unsophisticated prison, lost business during the time he was in jail
and had to pay extensive legal fees. Needless to say, foreign investors are
leery to invest in a country with this type of reputation. It also has a
tendency to scare off tourists.
The citizens of the Philippines deserve good government.
They share the same values as many of the developed countries of the world. They
are typically hard working, honest, god fearing, family oriented and mostly
educated citizenry. Poverty is still
widespread in the country. According to their own government figures four of
every ten Filipinos live in poverty and make a daily wage of less than 38 pesos
a day (50 peso to one US dollar).
Minimum wage depends on where you live in the Philippines. The highest minimum
wage is presently 265 pesos a day. It does not appear that people are starving
in the country. However, I did read in the Philippine Daily Enquirer that
several hundred thousand children were malnourished. One solution to this
poverty is foreign investment by companies making products or harvesting
resources in the Philippines. A large influx of foreign capital will only occur
when the government stabilizes and corruption is controlled better. With the
correct type of government, foreign investors are likely to flood the country.
Even if these investors doubled the minimum wage, this country’s workforce
would be a bargain. The country is loaded with natural resources and has a great
manpower pool. At some time in the future, the RP will become a full blown Asian
economic tiger. This will do wonders for it's economy and its citizens.
One last issue confronts potential tourists: Terrorism
Several armed groups in the Philippines have aims to
overthrow the government and seize power. The two largest are the New Peoples
Army (NPA) and Abu Sayyaf. The NPA is a communist group who presented occasional
threats to the US military when it was in the Philippines. Since the bases
closed in 1991, no American was attacked until February 2002. In January 2002,
an American tourist was shot and killed on Mt. Pinatubo. US and RP military
intelligence have stated that it was the NPA who ambushed and killed this man.
The Abu Sayyaf is a group attached to the Moro National Liberation Front. This
group would like to seize parts of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and
Malaysia and form an independent Islamic Republic. Abu Sayyaf has confirmed
links with Osama Bin Ladin’s Al-Qaida terrorist organization. On May 27, 2002
Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 20 tourists from Palawa Island in the southern RP and took
the captives to Basilan Island. Three of the captives were Americans. Some
captives were freed after substantial ransoms, some escaped, some were freed by
military action and some were killed by their captors. The terrorists beheaded
one American captive last year. When I arrived in the RP on 18 May 2002, Abu Sayyaf was holding two Americans (Gracie and Martin Burnham) on Basilan Island.
The release of the Burnham’s was contingent upon a two million dollars ransom.
The day before I returned to the USA, a Philippine military rescue attempt
resulted in Gracie being rescued but Martin was killed.
The US military would have liked the freedom to operate
without restrictions on Basilan for the purpose of eliminating Abu Sayyaf and
rescuing the American captives. The Philippine government has prohibited this.
It is allowing our military to train and equip Philippine Armed Forces who in
turn have promised to wipe out the Al-Qaida terrorists. This training exercise
has caused significant debate in the Philippine Senate with some Senators
wanting the exercise terminated. Their stated concern is that the USA using this
as an excuse to once again gets its troops in the RP. And, the USA’s real goal
is the permanent basing of our troops in their country. These stated objections
are obfuscations designed to confuse the citizenry. As long as some of these
senators can keep the citizens looking at the USA, the same citizens are
diverted from watching what else the senate is up to. The USA has been a
frequent scapegoat for many of the past and present problems in the RP. Some of
the much older claims, regarding the occupation of the Philippines following the
Spanish American War, may have some merit. But these same Filipino historians go
to minimize how America freed their country of Japanese occupation in WWII. When
it comes to the final closure of Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, it is
never pointed out that if the USA had chosen to do so, it could have just stayed
on the bases and ignored the government. But instead, when the bases negotiating
teams came to positions that could not be compromised, the USA left voluntarily.
The RP government had demanded a billion dollars of rent annually for use of the
bases. The US government told them that we do not pay rent to any country for
use of bases, but we could provide approximately a billion dollars in aid money
annually. The RP insisted that “rent” be paid and that impasse combined with
the volcano ended our use of the facilities. The RP governments published
information in school text books is that a vote of their senate forced the USA
to abandon the bases. The facts are that the volcano hastened our departure and
the vote in the senate occurred after the USA decided to permanently abandon the
bases. When Clark was closed, the citizens of the RP lost approximately a
billion dollars annually in direct wages, off base contractor contracts, off
base housing rented by thousands of Airmen and millions of money spent by these
American families residing off base in the RP. In addition, economic and
military aid provided by the US congress was slashed. In the end, it can be
claimed that it was the Filipino citizenry that suffered the most and the USA
managed just fine without the bases. However, the RP senate could truthfully
claim they asserted national sovereignty.
Now in 2005, the specter of the closed bases is still interfering
in the present war on terrorism. The restrictions preventing the US military
from directly attacking the terrorists is another reason tourists have to be
concerned about travel to the RP. The elimination of the terrorist threat in the
Philippines is essential. Unless this is done, widespread tourism will not
occur. The threat of being kidnapped, held ransom and possibly executed is
presently a major factor in why tourists are avoiding the Philippines.
The United States State Department
assessment for the RP for
areas outside of Manila is listed as high. The assessment identifies the same
terrorism issues stated in this report. The assessment ends with this statement.
“In view of these incidents and the possibility of future terrorist activity,
kidnappings for ransom, or bombings, Americans traveling to or residing in the
Philippines are urged to maintain a high level of vigilance and to increase
their security awareness.”
The bottom line regarding traveling to the Philippines is this:
Travel to the Philippines is best undertaken by experienced foreign travelers. An awareness of the problems in the country and a basic knowledge of counter terrorism precautions is required. Most PJs and a lot of U.S. military members and their families fit this category. The rest of you need to decide if you have the experience required for safe travel to the Philippines. Like a rose, it can be both beautiful and thorny. The key is to not get pricked by the thorns.
I obviously enjoyed my trips to the RP; because, I now call it home.
Coming in February 2005 - Details about
becoming an expat
Another webpage about the same size as this one with my experiences obtaining housing, drivers licenses, bank accounts, etc.
More Pictures from the Philippines
 Much of the demographic
material excerpted from “A Visitors’ Guide to the Philippines”
published by Integrated Marketing Services, Makati City, Philippines
Excerpted from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
 The Philippine Star News, June 3, 2002, page 4
 Philippine Daily Enquirer, January 28, 2002, page A5